Thousands protest after opposition Istanbul mayor banned from politics

Thousands protest after opposition Istanbul mayor banned from politics

Thousands of Turks swarmed a central Istanbul square on Thursday in solidarity with the city’s opposition mayor after he was banned from politics ahead of next year’s presidential election.

A criminal court on Wednesday sentenced Ekrem Imamoglu to more than two years in prison and banned him from politics for the same length of time for “insulting a public official” in 2019.

Imamoglu will continue to serve as mayor of Turkey’s largest city while his appeal is heard in a case linked to a hugely contested election in which his initial victory was annulled.

The appeal could be heard at any time and destroy any bid to run in the June presidential campaign.

The US State Department said it was “deeply troubled and disappointed” by the potential removal of one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s biggest rivals from the political scene.

Germany called it “a heavy blow to democracy” while France urged Turkey to “reverse its slide away from the rule of law, democracy and respect for fundamental rights”.

Turkey’s fractured opposition has struggled to unite behind a single candidate to challenge Erdogan’s two-decade rule in the upcoming vote.

Polls show that the 52-year-old Istanbul mayor was one of the more likely potential challengers to beat Erdogan in a head-to-head race.

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